Keeping your writing simple is usually beneficial.
Writers and readers alike agree to this fundamental fact, among them Carver, Paley, Beattie, and Ellis. In the content marketing world, Shane Snow even goes as far as to support the argument for clear writing with data in his reading level analysis article that was published in January. In his article, after comparing the respective reading levels of several popular books and articles (both fiction and nonfiction), he comes to a fittingly simple, albeit bold, conclusion:
“We should aim to reduce complexity in our writing as much as possible. We won’t lose credibility by doing so. Our readers will comprehend and retain our ideas more reliably. And we’ll have a higher likelihood of reaching more people.”
Fine… So we should be aiming to make our writing as readable as possible to produce high quality content. However, I find that, as a writer, it can be difficult to determine how to make this happen.
A new editing tool, called the Hemingway App, aims to bridge the gap—to show writers just how to simplify their writing to its most basic and easy-to-understand parts.
While the app itself seems to have a few technical bugs, it really works rather simply. You paste a selection of your writing into the writing platform, and the program shows you sentences that are too long/difficult to read, instances in which you’ve used passive voice, where you can simplify words, or when you can remove adverbs.
But before you get all excited and vow to run all your nearly finished content through this handy app, let me pose a rather important question: is the Hemingway App (or another application like it) really a good way to edit your writing? After all, according to The New Yorker, Hemingway himself scores pitifully by the Hemingway App’s parameters.
To answer this question for myself, I put the Hemingway App to the test using my own writing as a template, and came to some unexpected conclusions.
According to the home page, which also functions as an instruction manual of sorts, the app’s first goal is to identify overly complex and hard to read sentences.
I’m sure we all agree, on principle, that unreasonably difficult sentences should be swiftly deleted. In this respect, the app promises to do something no less than extraordinary: to help you get rid of unruly sentences that are just too hard to read, especially for skimmers.
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Before editing: Run-on sentences with entirely too many hard-to-follow clauses, and multiple subjects that might even change in the middle of the sentence, or perhaps at the very end of your sentence so that the reader has to go back and reread a section for clarity, or just skip over parts of your blog post altogether, aren’t helping anyone or getting you a solid set of readers or capturing any leads for your company.
After editing: Write with short, straightforward sentences to produce quality content.
Okay, so the Hemingway App didn’t write that shortened sentence; I did. But it can point out unmanageable sentences that might have slipped through the editing cracks.
However, my main complaint with the app in particular was that it clearly holds higher standards than I do concerning what constitutes an acceptably simple sentence. Any sentence with more than a couple clauses was highlighted in yellow; even sentences that I thought were still easy to read and understand.
The “simpler alternative” feature highlights words within your writing that can be replaced with more accessible language.
For a writer like me, for whom making language complex is more natural than making it simple, this tool has the potential to be incredibly helpful.
Before editing: Writers who utilize less sumptuous language often paradoxically produce more sententious content.
After editing: Writers who use less extravagant language often produce more persuasive content.
I was surprised that the Hemingway App was sophisticated enough to have this feature, and found the tool as useful as it was impressive.
The adverb tool highlights all adverbs so that writers can “get rid of them and pick verbs with force instead.”
Before Editing: A good editor efficiently and helpfully edits the content you wrote too quickly.
After Editing: An efficient and helpful editor attacks your unpolished content and makes it better.
This feature on the application made perfect sense from a technical standpoint, but I couldn’t help but become skeptical.
Overusing adverbs can be confusing, frustrating, and unseemly, but in my personal opinion a single well-chosen one can go a long way towards elevating aspiring content.
The passive voice indicator does exactly what you’d expect; it highlights any uses of passive voice so that the writer can come up with better alternatives.
Before Editing: The best stories are comprised of simple and readable sentences.
After Editing: Simple and readable sentences make up the best stories.
Passive voice is pretty unequivocally “not good,” regardless of what style of writing you choose to dabble in. And yet, as I’m sure happens to all of us when a good editor tears apart one of our stories, I found that I was guilty of throwing it a couple shameful times. (Oops…) Thank you, Hemingway Editor…
Bonus Tip: Save this appropriately despised writing structure for times when you want to avoid blame at work like a skillful politician. (i.e. “mistakes were made,” “coffee was split,” “fires were started”).
In conclusion, after using the Hemingway App, I found that it is a helpful tool for writers looking to improve their writing (or for those who want to keep an eye open for certain errors they make too often). But the more complicated question remains: should you use this technology as your content editor?
Ultimately, we all aim to produce easy-to-read, crystal clear, quality content, and I’m of the opinion that this software can assist us in doing just that. However, using any tool such as this one also comes with stylistic limitations. By all means, shorten your sentences, use active language, and cut out unnecessary description, but if some of your killer sentences don’t exactly conform to this app’s discerning eye… Well, it might not be the end of the world.